Trump's Opioid Emergency Promise Was News to the Officials Who Have to Make It Happen

It’s a fire drill in the Trump administration after Donald Trump promised on Monday that “next week” he’d make an emergency declaration on the opioid crisis. His advisers and the agencies that would have to make an emergency response happen were not and are not ready to do that, and go figure—it’s just not that easy:


Emergency declarations are typically used to respond to isolated events such as hurricanes and floods, or disease outbreaks. Using one to combat a nationwide epidemic with no obvious end point might require unprecedented resources and raises numerous legal and other questions, said one senior White House official. [...]

Multiple sources in and out of relevant federal agencies said that key leaders on the opioid issue had not been asked to draw up strategies and tactics.

A senior FDA official said she did not know who was in charge of the emergency declaration efforts and described the effort as “such a mess.”

Let’s repeat that: “Key leaders on the opioid issue had not been asked to draw up strategies and tactics.” That’s perfect.

To make it all a little more complicated, there’s no health and human services head since Tom Price resigned in disgrace, there’s no Drug Enforcement Association head since the last person acting in that role resigned over Trump’s lack of respect for the law, Trump’s back to square one in picking an Office of Drug Control Policy leader since his first one had to withdraw over his sponsorship of a law making it harder for the DEA to combat the opioid crisis, and a Department of Homeland Security chief to replace now-White House chief of staff John Kelly has not yet been confirmed.

All of this is probably moot, though, because the fact that Donald Trump said he’d be making an emergency declaration does not actually mean Donald Trump intends to make an emergency declaration. It means he thought that would get him some approval and good press in the moment he said it and didn’t think beyond that. So most likely he’ll end up declaring something with the word emergency in it that doesn’t commit many resources or involve a real plan, but Trump will get to sign something in front of cameras (if he remembers to do the signing part) and say he’s taking action, and that’ll be good enough to keep him happy, even if it does nothing to keep people from dying of overdoses.

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